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In Search of a Smartphone Part Three: Carriers and Cost

In this, the third in a series chronicling the search for a smartphone, we’ll examine providers and plans. The first article [1] covered smartphone basics; the second [2] looked at security. Having never owned a smartphone–or even a decent cell phone–research for this series has been an eye-opener. Due to my lack of experience in most things mobile, it’s likely that mistakes will occur, or important information will be overlooked. Please feel free to offer criticism or comments.


Smartphone plans were probably the most baffling issues encountered in this search, as the plans–on the surface at least–appeared to be inexplicably complex. But, overall comparisons revealed few significant differences in price (at least for the individual plan I’m considering). There are three basic items found in the plans; voice, messaging, and data. The least expensive individual plans from most of the providers are roughly the same price; between $70.00 and $80.00 per month.  So, not including the price of the phone itself, insurance, and other collateral costs, you’re looking at a minimum cost of $1800.00-$2000.00 over a two year period. No doubt a hefty sum. But, a family plan, where multiple phones can be added, may offer a discount price per phone. Or, if a friend or family member already has a family plan, you might consider piggybacking onto theirs.

For those unfamiliar with data plans, they’re designed to enable web browsing, email, etc. via high-speed networks. Depending on the carrier, a data plan may be required. These plans are sold in packages of MB (megabytes) or GB (gigabytes) and the conventional wisdom is that a customer should purchase somewhat more than they expect to use, with at least 2GB recommended. However, data plan usage can be conserved by connecting to the web over an available Wi-Fi network, rather than through the provider’s network.

Here are links to the individual plans from a few of the major providers; Verizon [3], Sprint [4], T-Mobile [5], and AT&T [6]

Price is certainly important, but service deserves attention as well. For example, some providers may offer better coverage for your area than others. Several of the providers offer their own coverage maps, but there are also some from (apparently) neutral sources. Sensorly [7] is one and Root Metrics [8] is another.

The Root Metrics map is pretty straightforward, but Sensorly has a slight learning curve. At Sensorly [7], which uses Google Maps, click the Coverage Maps link.


Then, select a network, country, and carrier, and add the specific location.


A legend at the bottom of the map describes the color scheme.


Of course, like everything else in this series, service needs are user-specific. My own lack of experience guarantees that my phone will be purchased locally where, if questions or problems arise (as they almost certainly will), I’ll be able to receive more personal service than an online vendor might offer.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at phones…finally.